Jim Knutson grew up in northeast South Dakota hearing stories about folks who dropped a canoe into nearby Lake Traverse and traveled all the way to the Hudson Bay and it was always something he intended to do.
Next May, the 66-year-old Veblen native will finally get around to it.
It was always on my bucket list, Edgemont resident Knutson said of the 2,000-mile voyage, which will take three months to complete. I grew up near Lake Traverse and always heard about how you could make it all the way up there (to the Hudson Bay), so that was kind of the catalyst.
Knutson will have two of his friends from the Edgemont area on the trip with him. Gary Stanker and Gerald Grizz Neff are both signed up to go and the trio has already begun preparations for a trip that will average about 25 miles on the water per day - with a few breaks. After all, it is a little unusual for a group of such experienced outdoorsmen to attempt to tackle such a task.
Nobody our age has even attempted it, Knutson said. Grizz will celebrate his 70th (birthday) while we're up there, I'll be 67 and Gary will be 63. We're representing the baby boomers - a little bit older, in fact.
Knutson, Neff and Stanker have already started gearing up for the trip, working out three days a week with a personal trainer and kayaking two other days a week.
We'll have to average 25 miles per day, take three months and travel almost 2,000 miles, which might be even more when you consider all the curves in the river, Knutson said. All three of us train three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and kayak the other two days. We do weights, stretching and cardiovascular stuff, which we started in May to get ready for next May.
Knutson said stamina - both mental and physical - will be the key to getting to Hudson Bay, where they hope to see polar bears and beluga whales.
The biggest challenge is stamina, we're already approaching going 24 miles a day in a kayak, but to be able do it day after day is going to be the difference, Knutson said. A bruised shoulder or cut finger, any of those things could cost us days. We've got a long checklist of things that we need to do and take care of.
Neff and Stanker are plenty well experienced in these types of matters. Neff was a longtime outfitter in Idaho who is a wildlife artist and photographer and Stanker grew up in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he spent a lot of time on the water.
The trip will begin at Lake Traverse, head up the Red River to Lake Winnipeg into the Hayes River, which eventually drains into the Hudson Bay. The plan is to then load up onto the train in Churchill, Manitoba, and ride it back to Thompson, which is where the highway ends.
We'll have somebody pick us up there, Knutson said. We've already got all sorts of volunteers for that, but I think that's because most of them don't think we're going to make it.
Knutson said a positive mental outlook will be a key to proving their doubters wrong.
Absolutely, you don't want to give up or get depressed if there's bad weather or if you're up there waiting for the wind to die down on Lake Winnipeg because it's too dangerous to go out there, Knutson said. Sometimes you just have to wait, and that's hard on your psyche, even for young people. We understand that we're going to have to take some days off of course, not go straight through, but we want to try to minimize that.
If they can, all three friends should have quite a story to tell about the check on the bucket list.